October 25, 2010
I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth, and give them warning from Me. Ezekiel 33:7
I was paging through National Geographic Traveler’s September issue, and an ad for Nature Valley, the company that makes granola bars, caught my attention. It’s partnering with the National Parks Conservation Association on three projects in the national parks: sustaining native plant life at the Grand Canyon, freeing pronghorn migration in Yellowstone, and restoring coral reefs in Biscayne National Park.
The ad I saw was about the work at Grand Canyon. There’s a plant there, the sentry milk-vetch, which grows only on the canyon’s rim—and nowhere else in the world. Not much is known about the tiny plant, which bursts with lots of lavender flowers in the spring. It was first discovered in abundance in 1903, and then declared rare four decades later. Now it’s on the verge of extinction.
The reason is probably due to the trampling of visitors, whose numbers exploded during the first half of the twentieth century, and also because its precarious position on the rim makes it vulnerable to harsh weather. And it doesn’t seem to spread very well either. One other factor is the tamarisk tree which, along with other non-native plants, is choking out the sentry milk-vetch and other native vegetation.
The good news is that volunteers are working with park specialists to collect native seeds by hand, and then care for seedlings in a greenhouse nursery, as well as locating and removing unwanted invasive species, like the tamarisk tree.
A lot of work for one little ol’ plant, huh? You may well wonder why so much effort is being put into such a project. Here’s the Park Service’s answer: “The ecosystems found in Grand Canyon National Park evolved over millennia, and each organism, no matter how small, has an important role in the contemporary environment. Biologists at Grand Canyon, through their efforts to safeguard the sentry milk-vetch, are striving to fulfill the critical goal of preserving the unparalleled biodiversity of the canyon ecosystems. With their success, the presence of this beautiful and unique plant at Grand Canyon will be assured, not only for the enjoyment of future generations, but also for the plant’s intrinsic value.”
To me, there are two spiritual takeaways from this. First, how amazing that God hand-crafted one variety of plant to exist in only one place! Such attention to detail, such care! Therefore, as Jesus puts it, “if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men [and women!] of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). God knows all about each one of us, down to the number of hairs we have on our head (Matthew 10:30), and He has the ability—and the desire—to provide what we need (Matthew 6:25-34).
Our uniqueness matters to God. Each one of us holds a special spot in His universe, whether we feel like it or not. I love the way the apostle Paul explains it to the Athenians: “God made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; and in Him we live and move and exist…” (Acts 17:26-28). Wow—God even determines where we live!
Secondly, I was struck by the sentry milk-vetch’s scientific name—cremnophylax, or “gorge watchman.”
The prophet Ezekiel was appointed by God to watch over the Israelites in exile in Babylon, to keep before them the sin that had brought God’s judgment, and also to assure them of His future blessing in keeping with His covenant. In Ezekiel chapter 2, God tells him, “You shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not” (v. 7).
In the Bible, a watchman’s task was to warn his city of impending danger as well as signal the first appearance of the crescent moon in connection with Passover and other celebrations. Woe to the one who fell asleep on the job! Jesus alludes to this important watching in two parables, that of the bridal attendants who weren’t ready when the groom appeared (Matthew 25:1-13), and the groom’s servants who were to stay awake no matter what hour of the night he returned home (Luke 12:38).
Watching is not a passive job—it’s an active one!
Every believer is a watchman or woman. Our mission is to observe and tell—of God’s love and salvation, His greatness, and all His wonderful attributes.
But we are also under an obligation to report some difficult truths—the dangers and warnings—that people may not want to hear. And that’s hard.
For example, it’s not always easy to say that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), because that viewpoint increasingly is seen as a narrow-minded, prejudiced and bigoted. Here’s how David Brickner puts it in the most recent Jews for Jesus newsletter: “True tolerance means treating people decently regardless of how they may differ from you. The false tolerance demanded by today’s society requires that you accept all beliefs as equally true, or if you can’t do that, you keep quiet about it. The suggestion that someone else’s religious belief might not be true is wrongly labeled as intolerance…today’s society has twisted the meaning…making it practically synonymous with relativism…[W]hen it comes to spiritual matters, the world insists on a degree of relativism that would spell disaster were we to apply it to the physical realm.”
Ezekiel didn’t have a comfortable time being a watchman. Some heeded his God-sent admonitions, others did not (Ezekiel 3:6-11, 33:2-9). But to all of them, the prophet shared this message: “Say to them, ‘As I live!” declares the Lord God. ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’” (33:11).
So take a lesson from the sentry milk-vetch. Though you may feel small and alone, understand you are very valuable to God. Stand firm in your faith, clinging to the Rock of your salvation (Ephesians 6:10-18, Psalm 18:2), realizing that often the world would rather trample down the message than accept it. Remember Jesus warned that the seed sown is vulnerable to being snatched up, choked out and stifled (Matthew 13:1-23).
But like a trustworthy watcher, keep on telling others how He sent his Son Jesus to take on their punishment for sin, and how He longs for them to place their trust in Him. Show them God’s mercy, but warn them of the judgment to come if they reject Him (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 1:18-32, Hebrews 9:27-28).
Because the harvest still is plentiful (Matthew 9:37).